For our seasonal residents that thought that winter wasn’t going to happen here this year…….whoops!. It’s here now with a vengeance. Chilly for us folks but a plus for the winter fishing. Species that perform well in cold water are in the process of arriving and feeding as we speak. Forecasts don’t show much of a break in the cold and colder pattern, so things should be frequent as far as fronts go but stable overall. Basically cold and windy. This week starts out with the surface water temperature at 63 and trending down as the cold nights continue. The tides drawn by a full moon early week will have a strong morning incoming and a strengthening afternoon outgoing. The winds and fronts will descend again starting Saturday with strong west winds that will surely foul the water for the ensuing 36 hours at least.
You won’t have to look very hard for your take-home sheepshead. They have arrived. They will be thick along the beaches and in all the passes and the origination point of all connecting waterways. In the days that follow they will spread to most of the inshore waters. Most now will be at least minimum keeper size. Technique is important with sheepshead who hold the record for bait stealing. Use a lindy rig (snelled 1/0 hook tied beneath a size 7 swivel with a 3/4 oz weight threaded on the line resting on the top of the swivel) worked by lifting it frequently 5-6″ off the bottom; if you feel weight on your rod set with a short (5-6″) yank. Then retrieve not allowing the rod to dip down and slack the line. Sheepshead minimum harvest size is 12″ overall length with the tail squeezed. Should also see upgraded activity on sea trout in the deeper holes early on small tipped jigs and then moving to the sea grass flats in the afternoon shallow water “warmth” jumping on shrimp strung under a popper on a drift. Other “activity upticks” in pompano in Hurricane Pass and Capri Pass in clean water tides with small tipped jigs worked tight to the bottom.
Need your forecasts this week; couple periods of high wind and rain could make for a rough trip. The cold turn to water temps could well as sent the pelagics scattering south……along with the assembled white bait. So, big “stuff” may have vacated the premises. Your new target should logically be the cold water sheepshead / black drum that are moving inshore to spawn. Good spots are the Walton Reef off Caxambas Pass and the Five Mile Reef complex further west. If the sheepshead population has arrived you’ll know it short order with the accelerating action level. (Check the backwater section for the technique to be used out here as well). The Capri Barges always seem to draw mackerel as the water chills this time of year. Certainly worth a shot working tipped top water jigs over chum into the moving tide.
Conditions permitting. Pick your day and time to avoid nasty wind and sea conditions. Red grouper will remain the top target through this change in weather conditions. Only difference is that they will move to their water comfort range……where deeper is warmer. So your starting depth over those hard bottom spots should move deeper ……from 40′-50′ to 50′-60′ working cut ladyfish or threads tight to hard bottom on a drift. Gag grouper will be in your window of opportunity but they are out of season and must be released. Reef spots closer inshore will give you a chance at some nice lane snapper working weighted tipped under chum.